Workshops help them understand plight of old people
READING medicine labels while wearing glasses that are partially covered, or buttoning up a shirt with bandaged fingers that cannot bend. SingHealth staff have been doing this to put themselves in the shoes of elderly people struggling to perform simple tasks while suffering from age-related poor vision or arthritic joints.
Since April, they have been attending workshops to better understand the elderly, as Singapore faces the challenges of an ageing population. About one in 11 people here is aged 65 and above. The proportion will jump to one in five by 2030.
Mrs Tan-Huang Shuo Mei, group director for communications and service quality at SingHealth and the Singapore General Hospital (SGH), said almost a quarter of patients in the hospital and the speciality centres there are aged 70 and above. “That group of old people will continue to grow,” she added. “The sooner we start improving and making the experience better... the better it is for us.”
The SingHealth group has three hospitals, five national speciality centres and nine polyclinics, employing 20,000 staff. About 400 of its employees have gone through the workshops in batches. About half of them work at the front line, as admissions office clerks, for example, and the other half are supervisors,
like department managers. Eventually, the group hopes to get all its staff to go through the training – a process that could take at least three years. The workshops are run by the Tsao Foundation, a voluntary welfare organisation concerned with the needs of the elderly. Since 1995, it has been conducting training programmes on understanding ageing.
SingHealth staff who went for the workshops said that it has helped them to better appreciate the challenges faced by the elderly patients they deal with. Ms Jan Koh, 27, a medical social worker at the National Heart Centre, struggled with the exercises where she had to simulate an older person performing tasks. But she said they helped her understand the anxiety elderly patients feel after being discharged from hospital. She said even elderly folks who are still mobile still face problems when performing some tasks. “I’m more mindful now not to brush off their concerns... I also learnt to have more patience with them.”
Tsao Foundation president Mary Ann Tsao said that it was a huge undertaking on the part of SingHealth to send all its staff for the training. Taking the needs of the elderly into consideration will also help the public at large, she said. “Generally, we find that whatever’s good for older people is good for everybody else.”